Jeff came by Dan’s office before heading to work at Iodex the following Friday. “Hey, I got your text.” Dan watched him look over his shoulder before he slid inside and closed the door behind him.
Guilt twisted in Dan’s gut. “Yeah.” He pulled an envelope from his briefcase. “I wanted to give you this and I wanted to apologize again about the trouble helping me is causing you.”
“No worries, sir. I’ll graduate in a few months and be out of here. That’s all I care about. Well… I mean that and the Venton cases,” he corrected unnecessarily.
“I understand. Believe me. I also wanted to give you a few reminders for while I’m in Kauai,” Dan edged.
Sinking down in one of the chairs in front of the desk Jeff nodded.
“You’re planning on working all week next week right?” Dan asked.
“Yes, sir and Becca’s going to pull her first full week at the Gifted daycare so we might be able to actually like order a pizza or something.” Jeff tried for a joke but Dan caught the exhaustion in the quip.
“Have a slice on me.” Dan pretended that he hadn’t noticed the apprehension and handed the envelope to Jeff.
“What’s this, sir?”
“Your bonus,” Dan chuckled as Jeff’s eyes goggled over the check that would cover two months of Jeff and Becca’s rent and maybe a nice dinner out.
“Thus far, you’ve cloned laptops and cell phones. You hacked into the Academy’s most secure financial files. You rewrote that program for my dad that created a duplicate set of the books so he could compare his to Wilshire’s. You showed me all of the sites where the exams are being sold. You helped Logan figure out several likely suspects as to whom sent the pulse through the new vault security system. You went on a stakeout with Rainer on my behalf and last night, you and Becca kept Aida so Fi and I could have dinner and go to childbirth class.”
A deep flush bloomed over Jeff’s face. “Yeah, but I mean you’re training me and Becca loves playing with Aida. You let us have all of your furniture. You let us live with you and Fionna, sir. And that wasn’t really a stake out. I sat in Rainer’s Porsche for an hour and afterwards, he let me drive it.” Jeff shrugged.
Chuckling, Dan nodded. “Sweet ride isn’t it?” He’d driven Rainer’s loaded Boxster convertible a few times and it was definitely a rush.
“This is not just from me.” Dan gestured to the check. “That’s from my dad, and Governor Haydenshire, and myself. We really couldn’t have done this without you. You earned every bit of it.”
“Sir, I can’t accept this.”
“How’s Becca doing? Fi said she was a little tired last night?” Dan changed the subject quickly.
“She’s okay, I guess.”
Concerned, Dan grabbed a Dr. Pepper from his shelf chilled it and handed it to Jeff before duplicating the process for himself.
“Could I ask you something?” Jeff begged suddenly as he popped the top of the Dr. Pepper.
“It’s just...” Jeff paused to reconsider.
“Spill it. I owe you some good advice after all the trouble I’ve caused you.” Dan pointed out.
“Becca’s kind of,” Jeff choked again.
A gnawing concern began to swirl in the pit of Dan’s stomach. “The baby’s all right?”
“Oh, uh yeah.” Jeff smiled relieving Dan. “We saw Adeline Tuesday. She did an ultrasound. I couldn’t tell much but she said he looks healthy and everything.”
“Yeah, it’s just that the Sapmans were able to give Bec whatever she wanted. And I want to do that, too, but I just can’t right now. And she doesn’t understand...” he choked in defeat.
“How little money you have right now,” Dan concluded for him.
Jeff looked utterly relieved to have shared his burden.
“How bad is it?” Dan asked cautiously.
“It’s not her fault,” Jeff declared adamantly making Dan smile. “It’s just that her parents never like made her pay her bills or anything. She really didn’t even understand how credit cards worked. When I tried to explain it, she thought I was mad at her and she started crying...” He rubbed his hands over his face. Dan genuinely felt for the kid. “I wasn’t mad at her, I swear. I would never be mad at her. I was just frustrated. It’s like, to Becca, shopping at Target is saving money because it’s so much cheaper than shopping at Nordstrom’s. I can’t make her understand that Target is still too much.”
“Do you have a budget?” Dan hoped he wasn’t prying.
“I showed her how to balance the checkbook and how to pay the bills,” Jeff admitted. “She’d never even written a check. So, I showed her how much we make and then how much our rent and utilities are and then what we have left over for food and stuff,” he cringed. “That seemed to depress her more.”
“I know it doesn’t solve anything immediately but in a few months you’ll have a full Iodex salary,” Dan reminded him.
“I know, and you have to understand, Mentor Vindico, she had three gas cards, a card to all of her favorite department stores, a gold card, and a debit card linked to her parent’s checking account. Her dad paid them off every month. She really had no idea how it worked. And now… I just don’t want to disappoint her.” He finally attached what he clearly considered to be the most harrowing piece of the puzzle.
“Believe it or not, I completely understand,” Dan began.
Jeff’s brow furrowed when Dan offered him a kind smile. When he’d quickly worked Fionna Styler from a one night stand, to his girlfriend, to his fiancée, to his wife in just a few month’s time, she’d been the lead receiver for the Arlington Angels. When they’d met, she was bringing in six or seven times what Dan made in a year. But it wasn’t Fionna Dan was referring to. “The most important thing is that you keep talking. Amelia and I fought about money constantly. She wanted a big house out near where we’d grown up and we signed the papers once we both had jobs. The deal was that if we bought the house, we couldn’t afford to do other stuff. But my idea of not doing other stuff and her idea were very, very different,” Dan admitted as raw regret washed through him.
“How’d you make it work?” Jeff begged.
“We didn’t. Not really. That’s what I’m telling you. I have a lot of regret in my life I’d never want anyone else to have even a small piece of. Talk to her don’t yell at her. Really talk about each and every bill. Try to be patient with her. Like you said she doesn’t understand.” Dan drew a deep breath and decided to go on. “I’ve never told anyone this. Not Fi, not my dad, not even Fitzroy. He’s my…” Dan began but Jeff interrupted.
“Your best friend. He was your partner when you were in Special Ops. You worked the task force in Paris with him when you first started at Iodex,” Jeff supplied knowingly.
“Yeah.” Dan found it odd that he was chuckling. “Like I said, we fought about money all the time. And though it wasn’t Amelia’s fault that I was hellbound determined to catch Wretchkinsides, the money was part of it,” he admitted.
Jeff nodded but remained silent.
“I always figured that being out making more money was better than being home fighting about not having enough. I wanted the recognition, and the fame, too. I wanted Wretchkinsides, don’t get me wrong, but I was also a complete ass. The money was part of why I worked so many hours for so long.”
A small piece of the regret unfettered from Dan’s chest. “But more work wasn’t the answer. We needed to talk and work on the relationship instead of me just shouting and then slamming the door behind me. You’ll find something that works and Becca will learn. She’s young. Give her sometime and try to be patient and explain it to her carefully.” Dan willed Jeff not to make his mistakes.
“I will, sir. I promise. Thank you for this,” he held up the check.
“Keep up the good work. And one more thing before you go,” Dan reminded Jeff. “Remember we suspect Katherine Bryant knows you’re helping me out. Make certain, over fall break, you don’t do anything on the Venton cases. I know you’re planning on working at Iodex all week, but maybe take a night off from budgets and bills and just be seniors. Enjoy being newlyweds. I’m not taking any of this with me to Kauai. I’m gonna give myself a break as well.”
“Yes sir,” Jeff agreed.
“And Portwood wants to see you in his office when you get to work today.” Dan knew what that was all about but he’d been sworn to secrecty. “Text me if anything significant happens,” was Dan’s final request.
“Am I in trouble?” Panic etched Jeff’s features.
“I did not get that impression,” Dan assured him. “Have a nice fall break, Jeff.”
“Have a good time in Kauai, sir.”
“Plan to,” Dan offered as he waved to Jeff.
Sinking nervously into the chair in front of Portwood’s desk, Jeff swallowed hard. He wasn’t certain why his boss had called him in his office, but he prayed that he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Portwood hung up the phone and offered Jeff a kind smile. “Man, don’t look at me like that. You have no idea how nice I am. If one of us got called in here when Dan was running this ship, we’d usually try to cast sound barriers over our eardrums to keep them from rupturing.”
Jeff chuckled still not certain that he wasn’t getting reprimanded.
“You’re doing amazingly well, Jeff. Honestly, I just wanted to see if I could take a little of the pressure off,” Portwood eased and Jeff allowed himself to breathe.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Here’s the deal,” Portwood leaned forward studying Jeff, “and let’s just keep this inside of Iodex for now, but Ramier told me yesterday that he and Kendra are planning on moving back to Boston to be near her family.”
Hope and fear fought for dominance in Jeff’s mind as he nodded his understanding.
“They’re looking to move their kids closer to Kendra’s parents,” he elaborated. “There’s a position opening in the Boston Iodex late in April that he’ll most certainly get if he applies. They have to sell their home first and they’d like the kids to finish out the school year here. So, what this means for you,” Portwood chuckled taking in Jeff’s eager expression, “is that I’d like you to replace Ramier as our Technology Specialist on the Elite Team.”
Unable to halt the broad grin that stretched across his face, Jeff was certain he must be dreaming. “Are you serious, sir?”
Portwood nodded. “I am serious but you have to graduate, Jeff. I can’t hire you without that diploma. I need you to not only to graduate but to work almost full time from the time Ramier has to report in Boston through your graduation. After that, you’re hired on the Elite force, as long as you get that diploma, and stay out of trouble.”
“I will. I swear,” Jeff vowed. “Thank you,” he added quickly. “I mean, I’m married and have a baby on the way. My days of even potentially getting into trouble are pretty much over,” he reminded his boss not minding that at all.
Laughing heartily, Portwood agreed. “Yeah, well, I’m in the same boat remember. And I know that Becca’s due in May. So, you finish school, sign a contingent contract in April, and that will guarantee you a few weeks paid paternity leave through the Senate. I can’t give you that as just an intern.”
“Yes sir, I know. Thank you,” Jeff continued to gush.
“I do have one other carrot for you, if you’re interested,” Portwood continued.
Jeff waited anxiously.
“Governor Willow approved a training addition for me. So, you’ll have to see how you could work this, but if you can take your exams early and keep yourself in the top ten percent then I’ll make you a full Elite member as soon as you’ve taken your last exam.”
Jeff considered that. “I don’t think I can take them all yet and still stay in the top ten percent.”
“I kind of figured that,” Portwood assured.
“One other thing, though, Ramier’s got his hands full with this hacker that keeps shutting down the Senate Accounting Department’s website. He’s trying to get access to the accounts and thus far he’s only managed to shut down the entire site repeatedly. John’s been watching him work and thinks he’ll be making another attempt this weekend. He thinks that fewer people will be watching the site over the weekend or at least that’s John’s premise. So,” Portwood shook his head slightly, “If you’ll help him out and catch this guy, I’ll give you a thousand dollar bonus,” he offered. “But you’ll have to work all weekend.”
Jeff tried to remember how to close his own mouth as Portwood went on.
“I want this taken care of. He’s making us look like fools. The sites been taken offline four times now. Governor Haydenshire isn’t happy nor is Mr. Buffet,” he lamented. “So, here’s half of your bonus. Go home and spend a little time with your wife, but by Monday morning, I would really like to be done with whoever Kevin Sly4361 really is. Figure out where he is and how he’s doing this. Send out Iodex in the nearest city,” Portwood gave his commands. “Arrest him and the rest is yours.”
“You got it, sir,” Jeff pledged.
“Ramier’s planning on staying up here all weekend,” Portwood warned.
“I’ll be here,” Jeff promised.
“Good man. Go on home. Tell Becca I promise not to do this to you too many weekends.”
“Thank you, sir. You have no idea how excited I am,” Jeff gushed.
“Yeah, well, just remember this feeling a year from now when all of the Governing board asks you constantly to look up the social media accounts of whoever it is that their teenagers are dating and report back,” Portwood quipped rolling his eyes.
Chuckling, Jeff nodded. “I’ll do that too.”
“Get out of here. I’m sure you can think of some way to spend a few extra hours with your wife before you spend the next two days staring at a computer screen,” Portwood teased.
Feeling lighter than air, Jeff laughed. “I’ll think of something.” He was actually joking around with Chief of Iodex Officer Landon Portwood.
With a quick wave, Jeff rushed to Rainer and Logan’s desks. “Okay, I want to take Bec somewhere kind of nice tonight. Romantic or whatever but not like way expensive.”
They both laughed but Jeff couldn’t find it in himself to care. This was going to work. He was going to be everything Becca would ever need.
“How about The Tavern on the river front,” Rainer offered.
“Yeah,” Logan agreed. “It’s nice. Ad and I have been there a few times. It has all the stuff girl’s like. Candles, quiet, whatever. It’s like thirty bucks a plate,” he explained.
“Perfect, do I need a reservation?”
“Nah, they don’t get too crowded until around seven. Just go a little earlier,” Rainer suggested.
“I take it we’re celebrating,” Logan quizzed with his signature smirk.
“Yeah,” Jeff chuckled unable to believe the day he’d had. “I just got two bonuses and a guaranteed spot on Elite as long as I graduate.”
They both stood to congratulate him. As much as he appreciated their sharing in his joy, Jeff wanted to get home before Becca.
“Okay, go home, and let Becca congratulate you,” Logan teased.
“I’m hoping.” Jeff smirked. Much to his chagrin, he nearly raced headlong into his father-in-law as he headed towards the exit doors of the Senate. His stomach clenched uncomfortably. He never knew what to say to Governor Sapman when Becca wasn’t around.
“Uh… have a nice weekend, sir,” he offered hopefully.
“It’s barely four o’clock, Jeff. Did you just decide to leave early? I doubt very seriously that you can afford that,” Governor Sapman huffed in disdain.
Before Jeff could argue, Portwood came to his defense.
“I was just bringing Jeff copies of the information we have thus far on the project I’ve just assigned him.” He handed Jeff a thick file folder. “He’s working all weekend; I told him to go home early have a nice night with Becca.” Portwood challenged the Governor and Jeff sank his teeth into the side of his mouth to keep from laughing. “Thought they could celebrate his appointment to the Elite Force in April.”
Jeff was astonished that his boss had come to his defense so readily and so adamantly.
Governor Sapman looked stunned.
“I… see. I suppose congratulations are in order,” he forced.
“Thank you, sir.” Jeff reveled in his father in law’s shock. He was sick and tired of the Governor upsetting Becca on a weekly basis with some rude comment directed towards Jeff.
She’d been in tears two nights before because her father had requested that she come to dinner with her parents and brothers without her husband. She’d refused and had been given a lengthy guilt trip which had simply been more than she could take. She’d dissolved into puddles of tears on Jeff’s shoulder.
She still wasn’t feeling all that well. She’d been sick a few times and was nauseous every day until well after lunch. School was taking its toll and she wasn’t used to going to school, then going to work, then coming home and doing homework and starting all over again the next day.
Growing up, whenever Becca was upset she generally soothed herself with shopping. As that wasn’t really an option anymore, Jeff had been feeling like an utter failure as a husband as he watched his pregnant wife grow more and more depressed.
He just wanted one night to let her forget about all of that, to just be with him, to try and make everything up to her.
“Perhaps you and Becca could come over to the house tonight, since you’re leaving early. I know that would make Sarah happy,” the Governor insisted.
But Jeff wasn’t playing. The Sapmans weren’t going to run he and Becca’s lives as much as they might like to.
“I’m sorry, sir. I’m gonna take Bec out tonight, just the two of us,” Jeff informed his father in law. The impressed look on his boss’s face bolstered his determination.
“I see,” the Governor fumed.
“You are aware, Officer Strenton,” he sneered. “That she is my daughter.”
“Yes, sir.” Fury swirled deep in Jeff’s soul. He’d had enough. He was going to make something of himself. Nothing was going to stop him, and he was tired of being looked down on and being judged unfairly by Becca’s family. “I’m also aware that she is my wife.” The words fell from his lips before he could stop them. Portwood’s eyes goggled as he slapped Jeff on the shoulder.
The Governor seemed momentarily unable to speak.
“Tell Ramier I’ll be here early in the morning,” Jeff requested of Portwood.
“No problem. Have a nice night,” Portwood edged himself between Jeff and his father-in-law.
“Sir,” Jeff gave the Governor a slight nod before racing out into the parking deck.